A/N: Never fear, those of you who are confused by Zuko's action. He will explain himself momentarily. Sorry about the delay in this one. School took over. AND wouldn't let me upload it forever and a day. Gr!
The priest stumbled back, dropping the blood stained knife to the ground. "A demon!" He gasped, eyes wide in his dark face.
Zuko said nothing in return, though his eye narrowed considerably. He pulled back his arm and unleashed a small jet of flame at the priest. The man dodged it before stepping forward to summon up a part of the ground before him. With a punch of his hand, he sent the rock flying at Zuko's head. Zuko dodged it easily and it went crashing into the trees behind him.
Once he'd safely cleared the rock, Zuko returned the move with a spinning kick. Flames extended past his foot, and the priest had to call up another rock to block the blast. He sent the same rock flying toward his opponent, and Zuko kicked out with sudden force so it shattered.
Without pausing, Zuko preformed a rapid series of punches and kicks designed to press the man backwards, towards the tree where the roots would prevent his earth bending from being very effective. With a yell of frustration, the priest threw his flaming torch at the firebender's head.
Zuko dodged it, but to Sokka's horror it landed on the sticks surrounding the rock he was still chained to. It flickered twice before a nearby stick caught and from there it began to quickly spread. With a yell of fright, Sokka strained against the chains and quickly began trying to blow the flames out.
Punching twice, Zuko backed the man still further against the tree. He managed to pull up another chunk of rock to throw at him. Zuko ducked to avoid it, grabbing the rope that had tied the sticks together as he did so. Noticing this, the priest used his earthbending to pull up some earth behind Zuko and send it into his back. The firebender prince toppled forward with a yell of frustration.
"Aang, look!" Katara said, pointing to a line of smoke to the west of them.
"Do you think that's them?" He asked, looking over.
"It has to be!"
"Come on Appa, Sokka needs our help! Yip-Yip!"
Zuko was on his feet again, and with a flaming kick he caught the priest in the chest and sent the elderly man crashing into the tree. Darting forward with the rope, he ran around and tied him to the tree with a quick knot. Zuko smirked at him. "You won't be escaping from that easily."
"Little help!" Sokka yelled, struggling against the chains. His face was coated in sweat from the heat of the fire, and he was beginning to choke on the smoke around him. Sokka closed his eyes against the burning heat, gasping for breath.
A sudden sensation of intense heat on the back of his right hand caused him to open his eyes again, and turn his head. Zuko was standing there, manipulating the flames so they were melting the chains. He made quick work of that one, the moved around to work on his other arm. As soon as his limbs were free, Sokka felt Zuko grab him by the front of the shirt and yank him out of the flames. The strap of his boomerang sheath caught one of the flaming sticks and snapped, but there was little he could do about it as he was thrown to the ground.
Coughing and rubbing his head, Sokka sat up. He glanced over at the priest before standing up fully and dusting himself off. He looked at Zuko and forced a smile. "Hey, thanks for saving me. Maybe you're not such a bad guy after all. I think I'll just be going then." Sokka turned around and started walking back in the direction of the village when he felt a hand on his shoulder and was pulled around so he was nearly nose-to-nose with Zuko.
"I didn't save you for no reason," the prince said, his yellow eyes flashing.
Sokka groaned as his arms were tugged behind his back and tied with the same rope previously used for his neck. "I was afraid you were going to say that."
Zuko shoved him forward, in the direction he had come from, without another word. The two where just down the hill and out of sight when Appa landed heavily in the clearing.
Aang leapt off Appa's head and ran to the now smoldering pile of sticks, "Sokka!"
Katara followed her friend a little bit slower, looking around frantically for some sign of her brother. "Sokka? Sokka, where are you?"
"Katara! Over here!"
The young Waterbender looked over at her friend. Aang was standing with his back toward her, but she could see his shoulders were sagging in defeat. She gasped and ran over as Aang turned around. Lying in his hand was Sokka's boomerang, the strapping of the sheath burned and torn.
"We're to late," Aang muttered dejectedly as Katara grabbed the object from him.
"No…Sokka…" Katara fell to her knees, tears falling down her face as she sobbed. "Sokka…"
Aang put a hand on the girl's shoulder, his own eyes bright with unshed tears. "Katara…I'm so sorry…"
"Why did he always have to play the hero? It's not fair!"
Aang didn't respond to her, instead just giving her a quick one-armed hug. A husky voice from the tree made them both jump.
"Spare your tears, outsider! No blood has been spilt this day."
Katara and Aang, tears forgotten now, both ran over to the tree. To their surprise, they found the priest was tied there. They stared at each other in surprise before looking back at the obviously furious priest.
"What do you mean?" Katara ventured. "What happened to Sokka?"
The man scowled, looking up at the sky. "You are strangers here in Tane's temple! I will not tell you anything."
"You have to tell us where Sokka is," Aang said, glaring angrily at the man.
"I don't have to tell you anything." The man shot back, his anger and humiliation rising to meet Aang's own.
Beside the young Avatar, Katara closed her eyes and clenched her fists. Her brother's boomerang still in hand, Katara raised her arms. The water from the river below answered her call, rising over its banks and up the hill, forming a massive wave behind her.
"Where's," she said with slow deliberation, "my brother?"
The priest gulped, his brown eyes wide with sudden fright. "Tane was most displeased with this sacrifice! He sent a scar-faced demon to keep me from killing him."
Katara let the water recede back before looking at Aang, "scar-faced demon?"
Sudden realization dawned on Aang's face, and his eyes widened as well, "Zuko."
Iroh and the crew looked at Zuko in confusion as he pulled a struggling Sokka a long the deck. Iroh crossed his arms over his chest, raising an eyebrow.
"I send you out in search of a village so we can get some food, and you come back with another mouth to feed?"
"It's worth it, Uncle," Zuko said calmly, pushing Sokka into his surprised crew. "He is a companion of the Avatar. He'll be looking for him, and when he does I'll capture him. Take him to the prison hold!"
The two firebenders looked at each other for a moment, shrugged, and did as the Prince ordered them to do.